NSW Irrigators is sending a wake up call from the state’s water customers, demanding government fix up its shambolic water administration, which has been found lacking in an alarming report from the NSW Ombudsman.
“NSW Irrigators and its members have an absolute zero tolerance for illegal water take. We support a very stringent water compliance system,” said chief executive Mark McKenzie.
“We pay millions of dollars annually in charges to support a strong system to ensure irrigators abide by their licences and we expect that those taking water illegally will be punished to the full extent of the law.”
NSW is not delivering the compliance system they pay for, Mr McKenzie said.
Acting NSW Ombudsman Professor John McMillan effectively blew the whistle on on a decade of “disarray” in water administration this week. (Read coverage of his report here)
Prof. McMillan released an interim report to the public which summarised the findings of three previous investigations, which were not public dating to 2006.
He spoke out weeks before he vacates the office on December 4, to be replace by outgoing State Coroner Michael Barnes.
The Ombudsman said compliance officers were untrained, inexperienced and lacked direction from management. There were excessive delays in prosecution of detected illegal activity and budget cuts had reduced caused a dramatic fall in the number of enforcement actions, which went from 620 a year to just 200 in 2016-17.
A fourth investigation is underway and due to be released by April 2018. Prof. McMillan told Fairfax he wants the findings of this report to be public.
Prof McMillan said reports into the earlier investigations were not made public as because the Department responsible for water regulation at the time ensured the Ombudsman would take appropriate action.
The interim report said the current investigation found past problems had not been addressed by the water administration.
The Ombudsman had seen enough.
“The issues highlighted in the current investigation are strikingly similar to the ones we found in our previous investigations,” the interim report said.
The Ombudsman’s report follows a controversial ABC Four Corners water investigation.
“To now have a second report highlight significant failures in the management of those compliance functions which we have paid for but have not been effectively delivered is extremely concerning,” Mr McKenzie said.
Mr McKenzie said NSW needs a water compliance system “beyond reproach” and called for an “urgent reset” on water compliance.
He called for a new baseline of water extraction data from which the new water extraction regulation system can begin, and for NSW state-owned compliance agency Water NSW conduct a comprehensive program of meter reading and sealing of meters, to return confidence in the compliance system.
“There is no evidence to suggest that there is widespread non-compliance with water licence provisions by irrigators – in fact quite the opposite,” Mr McKenzie said.
“The industry supports strong policing of licences, and regional irrigator bodies have been calling on the management agencies to increase the regime of meter reading and improve the turnaround times for repairs of government-owned meters.”
The story Don’t waste our money: irrigators put govt on notice first appeared on The Land.